While West Loop restaurant OON is technically new, it’s hardly the first time Chicago food lovers have heard about the spot. Chef Matt Eversman (left) first signed a lease on the Randolph Street space in November 2011, but the project was held up by a gut rehab (and all the complications that go with it). After teasing local diners for nearly two years, the Asian-inspired restaurant finally opened for business in early July, boasting an ambitious spirits program, a menu full of new flavors and a few other surprises — like the giant abstract map of Chicago’s L system stretching into the open kitchen, created by Eversman’s roommate.
Chef stats: After attending Le Cordon Bleu and working at Charlie Trotter’s, the Madison, Wis.-born chef helmed the dearly departed May Street Market before refining his Asian cooking skills as the executive chef of Saigon Sisters. Talent runs in the family, too — his brother, Nick, is an actor, most recently starring in the Ashley Judd TV drama “Missing.”
Vibe: Positioned on Randolph Street, OON is surrounded by some of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. Despite the hubbub happening outside, the restaurant still feels relaxing. The dark wood tables and chairs and brief pops of colorful art are bathed in natural light, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the space.
Cuisine: “I’ve always loved Asian flavors,” Eversman says. “Even when I had to create dishes in culinary school, they always ended up with fish sauce or five-spice powder in them.” The menu is more focused on blending Asian flavors with other ingredients than on serving traditional main dishes: A rack of lamb is topped with sunchoke purée, oyster sauce and Sambal, a chile-and-salt paste from Indonesia ($32). Other large plates include a scallop dish with white polenta, bok choy and blueberry ($24) and a pork roulade with potato-miso purée, pickled apricot, caramel sauce and tempura okra ($22), while the list of small plates offers a grilled short rib with daikon radish, maggi-soy glaze and mango chutney ($10) and grilled octopus topped with an unagi glaze, wheatberries, fennel, fried chorizo and smoked strawberry purée ($13).
Don’t fear the sake: The beverage program at OON, designed by Jon McDaniel (formerly of Purple Pig) includes cocktails, beer, wine and a large selection of local spirits. They’ve even got the newest product from Evanston-based FEW distillery, a locally crafted grappa. The fun, however, is found on the sake menu. Inspired by a visit to Osaka, McDaniel describes the sakes by emotion, rather than with technical terminology. “I used the first emotive response that I had, like a honeymoon on the beach or foraging for mushrooms,” McDaniel explains. This creates conversation with guests and makes the process of ordering sake less intimidating.
Say that again? It might be better to point to the menu rather than try to order foie pho ($6) out loud — it’s a tongue twister. “I’d always wanted to do a duck pho, since the spices go so well with duck,” says Eversman. “What is the perfect fat to put on top? Foie.” As the foie gras melts into the pho, it gets a rich, delicious sheen on top. It might be a bit warm for summer, but in a few months, it’s bound to become a must-try dish.
Story by Anthony Todd | Food photos by Ramzi Dreessen